What’s Up with Pastor Todd 7-2-21

What’s Up with Pastor Todd 7-2-21

Congratulations to First Church and South Church on a $15,000 grant from the Hartford Foundation for Public Giving to four different South and First initiatives. A number of folks from both churches worked really hard on writing the proposal. On behalf of all of us I’d like to thank Rev. Dr. Claire Bamberg in particular for her leadership in this effort: identifying the opportunity and giving advice on crafting the language that ultimately resulted in the award. The faith-based grant program from HFPG is a new grant opportunity to support faith organizations assisting residents who have been disproportionately affected by COVID-19, addressing needs of congregants and the broader community impacted by racial/ethnic, geographic, economic disparities, or advancing community engagement focused on social and racial justice.  The initiatives are Waste Not Want Not, the Grab ‘n Go program offered by First Church, the Granby Racial Reconciliation group, and the GUCCI coaches who are assisting the Program Working Group. 

I’m looking forward to seeing how these four initiatives develop with the funding and the accountability structure that the grant provides. Last week I wrote about Waste Not Want Not and Grab ‘n Go and suggested the resource Five Loaves, Two Fish, Twelve Volunteers: Growing a Relational Food Ministry by Elizabeth Mae Magill, which makes a distinction between a charity model and a relational model for food ministry. As we reflect on how to deploy the grant resources, it may be helpful for us to keep that distinction in mind. What’s our vision for food ministry in the church-to-be-formed? Which model would best serve that vision? How does food ministry fit within the overall vision for the new church? My understanding is that the Program Working Group will have a leadership role in these conversations. How will the Program Working Group leverage our coaching resources to clarify these issues? Though Waste Not Want Not and Grab ‘n Go are perhaps the most familiar food ministries in our churches, they aren’t the only food ministries.

Since April Granby Racial Reconciliation has been partnering with Food Solutions New England in leading a 15-week Racial Equity Challenge. Our own Ann Wilhelm is one of the visionaries behind this challenge. I encourage you to check out the websites above for more details on GRR’s and FSNE’s visions for community transformation. Both GRR and FSNE use a relational model because their goals aren’t limited to direct aid to the suffering but include making the whole system more just and equitable so that there are fewer suffering people. For those of you who don’t know, Granby Racial Reconciliation was formed a little over a year ago following the murder of George Floyd. Clergy and lay people from both South Church and First Church are involved in leading the group along with clergy from four other churches in town and many town leaders. We’ve had a number of successful events over the past twelve months including Hidden Figures Drive-in, a candidate forum, MLK town-wide preach in and community forum, a couple of vigils on the town green, and work with the school board to support racial equity and inclusion in our schools. There’s a lot more to come. I’m so grateful to everyone for their faithful effort not only in providing much needed charity but also in leading transformative relational ministry.

What’s Up with Pastor Todd 6-25-21

Y’all Come Community Lunch

What’s Up with Pastor Todd 6-25-21

Both First Church and South Church have food ministries. South Church hosts Waste Not Want Not, a weekly community meal. During COVID First Church started the Grab ‘n Go weekend snack pack program to provide additional food support and build relationships in our community. Food ministry is historic and widespread among churches in the U.S. So much so that there are numerous resources outlining what “works” and doesn’t work when engaging in food ministry depending on what the church’s goals are. A UCC colleague of mine, Elizabeth Mae Magill, recently published a helpful guide for transformational food ministry: Five Loaves, Two Fish, Twelve Volunteers: Growing a Relational Food Ministry.

She begins the book by telling the story of “Alan,” an unhoused person whom Rev. Magill first met as someone who attended Worcester Fellowship–the outdoor church she pastored–and who ended up leading and fundamentally reshaping the ministry to make it more relevant to the people it was intended to serve. In that process Rev. Magill’s view of Alan, the food insecure and unhoused people who gathered each week in the park for worship and PB&J sandwiches, and her own ministry changed. This transformation is the basis of the book, which distinguishes between charity and relational ministry

Charity, while alleviating immediate need, maintains the status quo. That’s why most churches, mainstream institutions, middle class folks, and wealthy philanthropists favor charity. (See, for example, Winners Take All: The Elite Charade of Changing the World by Anand Giridharadas). The status quo works for us! While charity has it’s place, it generally does not change the lives either of the ones serving or of those being served. (For more on the dark side of charity and how to transform it see Toxic Charity: How Churches and Charities Hurt Those They Help (And How to Reverse It) and Charity Detox: What Charity Would Look Like If We Cared About Results both by Robert D. Lupton.) Relational ministry by contrast seeks to transform the status quo by empowering the communities we are seeking to serve. (Habitat for Humanity is perhaps the most famous example of a truly effective relational ministry.)

Years ago I had the privilege of participating in a relational ministry that transformed an entire city. I was serving a historic, downtown congregation in Providence, RI. To make a long story short, I called on some of my partners, including the Rhode Island Coalition to End Homelessness. Together with members of the homeless community we developed a plan for an inaugural “Y’all Come Community Lunch.” Did volunteers cook food and serve it to food insecure people? Yes. Did volunteers take shifts so that everyone had both an opportunity to serve and be served, both to stand behind the food table and stand in line with the guests? Yes. The lunch also featured live entertainment from a band whose members were in recovery from addition. It featured speak-outs and poetry from unhoused folks. Was it loud? Yes. Was it rowdy? Yes. Was it a big community party that broke down barriers between “us,” the helpers, and “them,” the helped? I’d like to think so.

Years go by, the homeless community develops a “bill of rights” that is adopted by the state. The state formally adopts a “housing first” approach to homelessness, which greatly reduces homelessness statewide. The result was that the church’s “Bread and Blessings” program–which gave bag lunches to food insecure folks from our parking lot–had to close down after twenty years because so few people needed the service anymore! This can be the difference between charity that maintains the status quo and relational ministry that changes the world.

What’s Up with Pastor Todd 10-23-20

What’s Up with Pastor Todd 10-23-20

This week Beth Lindsay, Kerri Crough, and I along with a couple others from the Vitality Team visited Life Church New England to learn about their partnership with Food Share. Food Share provides low cost food to partner organizations that serve as distribution sites to food insecure people. The Vitality Team has a vision that First Church could serve as one of those sites. The need is great. The mission of the Vitality Team is to grow the church. Food ministry in itself doesn’t necessarily grow the church. But food ministry can provide the context in which a church might grow if the ministry is designed in such a way that it gets us outside the church walls and provides opportunity to build authentic relationships with people who are not yet members of the church. 

Clearly this has been the case for Life Church. Volunteers take the time to get to know clients, pray with them if that’s appropriate, and otherwise walk with them as the hands and heart of Jesus in their lives. Volunteers also invite their friends and neighbors who aren’t food insecure to join them in this ministry. In this way Food Share not only meets the real needs of hurting people but also provides another “entry point” for people who may not have food needs but who may have spiritual needs like needs for purpose, meaning, and community. 

Not only am I excited about the possibility of reaching new people through a Food Share ministry but also about building a partnership with Life Church. Vital partnerships are another strategy for building vital ministry–particularly when those partnerships bridge racial, cultural, and theological differences. I’m grateful to Beth and Kerri for finding new ways to lead us beyond our walls.